Shirley woman killed in fire remembered as devoted mother

Jennifer McCusker died in a house fire along Jennifer McCusker died in a house fire along with her three children. (Oct. 12, 2013) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Jennifer McCusker's oldest son, 7-year-old Aidan Tarbell, loved monster trucks and riding his bike. Her 2-year-old twins, Ava Jane and Brendan Mistretta, were inseparable.

McCusker, 41, was a devoted mother who took every effort to take her children to the park and beaches, family and friends said.

She died with her children when fire engulfed their brick, ranch-style home Friday night. She had lived and worked in the home her parents built in Shirley more than 40 years ago.

"The room that the twins were in -- that was the room we shared growing up," said her younger sister, Michelle McCusker of Jackson, N.J., who fought back tears Saturday. "My brother had the bedroom next door."

Their parents, Kathleen and James McCusker, who now live in Manchester, N.J., raised Michelle, Jennifer and their older brother, James, in the home. James McCusker of Commerce, Mich., is the home's owner. He was said to be en route to the Long Island area Saturday night.

Jennifer, whom everyone called Jenni, was a 1990 graduate of William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach who had earned a master's in business administration from Dowling College in Oakdale.

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She never married and worked at home in the employer services department for the Cigna health insurance company, said Michelle McCusker, an emergency room nurse.

"She was the type of person who helped everyone," she said, describing how Jennifer woke up at 5 a.m. most days to help a neighbor's disabled child get on the school bus.

She loved reading and was often called the "little family editor" for her writing skills, relatives recalled.

The twins were inseparable, often "partners in crime," while Aidan always had a smile on his face, McCusker said.

Joseph Tarbell, 47, Aidan's father, said the 7-year-old also loved playing on the beach. "He loved chasing the waves," said Tarbell, who had been temporarily living in the home's basement apartment but was out with friends when the fire struck.

Last Monday, Aidan, a second-grader at Hobart Elementary School, proudly showed his parents he had scored 100 percent on a math test, Tarbell said.

Brittney Roell, 23, of Shirley, who twice lived in the basement apartment in the home, described the 7-year-old as always running around and asking questions. "He was very interested in the world."

Roell said the twins were coming into their own personalities. She said Jennifer McCusker's children "were her everything."

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Ruthann Krafve, a neighbor, said of the children: "Every day they play, they swap clothes, they share snacks, they go to the ice cream truck -- they were kids. They were just babies."

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